Changes in Chapter 5 – The Writing Section

Although the writing section of the TOEFL has not changed since the last edition of the Official Guide, there are a few changes in the book worth mentioning.

Page 187: There is a new warning for students: “be sure to use your own words rather than memorized sentences and examples in your essays.  Essays that include memorized text will receive a lower score.”

Page 200:  The book repeats the old warning about memorized examples, but adds “and your response will receive a lower score.”

Page 201:  This warning is expanded upon.  I won’t repeat the whole thing here, but it adds to the above: “extended stretches of memorized text do not represent the writer’s true academic writing skills.  Responses that include memorized examples, arguments, or formulaic references to sources will receive considerably lower scores than essays containing the writer’s own words.

It also adds an example of what it is referring.  The example is a long body paragraph that summarizes a fictional poll conducted by the New York Times, which it describes as “not genuine development.”

This matches the advice I have long given students to not use fake research to support their arguments.

Those are all of the changes I could spot, but it is worth mentioning that the book still contains the following misleading parts:

  • An inaccurate integrated sample question on page 188 (the reading only has two paragraphs in total)
  • A reference to supporting lectures on page 190
  • A poor list of sample questions on page 210 (some of them are styles of prompts no longer used on the real test)

I’ll wrap this series of articles up tomorrow with a few words about the sample tests.

According to a report in EdWeek, ETS has launched “investment arm devoted to supporting growth-stage companies in education” called ETS Strategic Capital.  The article reports that through this arm ETS plans to make equity investments ranging from $1 million to $20 million dollars, and M&A deals ranging from $20 million to $200 million.

I guess this answers the question of what ETS did with the money they got from selling Prometric to a Hong Kong based private equity fund in 2018.  That sale, the timing of which turned out to be quite fortuitous, added one billion dollars to ETS’s bottom line. 

The article mentions a few startups ETS has already invested in.  Some of them look promising.  Being flush with cash at a time like this puts ETS in a strong position, and I am sure their investments will pay off in the long run.  I fear, though, that the organization may be moving further from its core mandate of conducting valuable research and developing accurate assessment methods.

Interestingly, ETS recently started looking for a new Chief Operating Officer.  I don’t know if that is connected to this development.

 

Changes in Chapter 4 – The Speaking Section

Moving along, here are changes to the fourth chapter of the new Official Guide to the TOEFL. Of course the old question types (1 and 5) have been removed, but that’s not what this series is about!

Page 165 – 176: The four speaking questions are all given actual names now.  They are: Paired Choice, Fit and Explain, General/Specific, Summary.  That’s nice, and I will likely modify my guides to refer to the official names of each question. That said, I don’t really know why they call the second one “Fit and Explain.”

Page 165: The description of the first speaking question has been modified slightly.  It now specifically mentions that you might be asked if you agree or disagree with a prompt, and a sample of that is given.  This is a great change.

Page 166: The “tip” has been expanded.  The new part is: “But don’t try to write out a full response because you won’t have time, and the raters scoring your response want to hear you speaking, not reading aloud.

Page 167 (important): There is a new tip.  This one will be controversial.  It says: “Do not memorize responses before the test, especially ones that you get from the Internet, or from test preparation instructors who say this is a good idea.  It is not a good idea, and it will lower your score.  Raters will recognize a memorized response because the rhythm, intonation, and even the content of the response will be very different from a spontaneous response.  Memorized responses are easy to identify.”

Page 185 (important): The SpeechRater is mentioned: “SpeechRater primarily measures features described in the Speaking rubrics under Language Use and Delivery.”  Pay attention to the “primarily” weasel word.  This means that the SpeechRater does, to some extent, grade your topic development as well!

 

 

Update:  The files seem to be available now.

Just a word of warning about the new Official Guide.

You must use an access code from the book to download the audio files and software. The code can only be used two times.

If you enter the code right now, you will get a message that the downloads are not ready. That will count as one use of the code. If you enter the code again tomorrow and the files are still not ready, that will count as a second use of the code.

After that you will have no more uses left. You will not be able to get the files.

I will try, somehow, to get confirmation of when it is safe to use the download code.

Changes in Chapter 3 – The Listening Section

Okay, this will be a quick entry in this series, since chapter three is largely unchanged.  But a few things are worth mentioning.

Page 119 (important): The 5th edition says that “each lecture or conversation is 3-6 minutes long.”  The 6th edition says that “each lecture or conversation is approximately 4-5 minutes long.”  I guess the conversations are trending longer, while the lectures are trending shorter nowadays.

Page 119:  The old edition says “you should take notes.”  The new edition says “you may take notes.”  I like that change.

Everything else, including the practice sets, seems to be exactly the same.

 

Changes in Chapter 2 – Reading Section

Alright, I’ll continue my examination of the new edition of the Official Guide to the TOEFL by looking at all of the changes in chapter two.

Page 38 (important): The chart depicting question types now reflects the fact that there are fewer questions in total.

The specific changes are (old –> new)

  • Factual Information questions: 3-5 per set –> 2-5 per set
  • Vocabulary questions: 3-4 per set –> 1-2 per set

The other question types are unchanged.  This confirms our earlier speculation that vocabulary questions have been heavily reduced.

Page 55 (important): As discussed earlier, the “table” questions can be worth 2 or 3 points.  Tables with four correct answers are worth two points, and those with five correct answers are worth three points.  Partial points are possible for both.

Question deletions in the practice sets are as follows:

Set 1:  Factual information, Inference, Vocabulary

Set 2:  Vocabulary, Negative factual, Inference

Set 3:  Vocabulary, Factual information, Vocabulary

Set 4:  Factual information, Vocabulary, Vocabulary

Set 5:  Vocabulary, Vocabulary, Reference

Set 6:  Reference, Vocabulary, Vocabulary

Indeed, vocabulary questions are far less common than before.  Note that only three questions were deleted from each set as these sets did not have enough questions in the previous version of the book.

Changes in Chapter 1 – Test Overview

My copy of the sixth edition of “The Official Guide to the TOEFL” has finally arrived!  Starting today, I will describe all of the changes in this edition.  I’ll begin, of course, with chapter one, “About the TOEFL iBT Test.”  After I have finished with all of the chapters, I will provide a general review of the book.

Page 1-2:  The description of the test in this edition makes it sound a lot more prestigious than before.

Page 5 (important): The book now mentions that “for the speaking and writing responses, ETS uses both certified human raters and artificial intelligence (AI) scoring to provide a complete and accurate picture of a test taker’s ability.”  

Page 5 (important):  The book now mentions that “after finishing the test, test takers will be able to view their unofficial scaled scores for the Reading and Listening sections.”

Page 5:  The “test format” chart now reflects the current number of questions in each section. The charts for each section later in this chapter do as well, and I won’t mention them below.  But see the END of the article for a possible discrepancy. 

Page 5 (important): The book now mentions that  “you may hear some native English-speaker accents that are not from North America, such as British or Australian.”  It includes as link to some samples, but I couldn’t find them.

About the Reading Section

Page 7: As indicated, the chart here reflects the current number of questions.  Which is “10 questions per passage.”  This probably misleading/incorrect information. See my final note in this article for more information about this. 

Page 9 (important): In the reading section “category chart” questions have been renamed “category table” questions.  The book indicates that “some table questions are worth up to 2 points and others are worth up to 3 points, depending on the number of correct answers expected.”  In the past, these questions were always worth 3 points.

Page 10: A new question is used to illustrate the reading “table” question.  The sample is worth 3 points.

About the Listening Section

Page 12 (important):  The lectures are described as being “4-5 minutes long.”  Previously, they were described as being “3-5 minutes long.”

About the Speaking Section

Page 17: The book now refers to the updated number of questions in this section (4) and the duration of the section (about 17 minutes).  It also refers to the fact that the section is partially scored by “the automated scoring system.”

About the Writing Section

No changes.

About Test Scores

Page 21:  The book indicates that each speaking response will be scored by a different rater.  Previously, the same rater might have scored two of your responses.

Page 22-23: The book now mentons MyBest scores, and that score reports are received after 6 days (instead of 10).  It makes clear that “Official Score reports will be sent directly to your designated recipients within eleven days after you take the test.”  It is nice to have that in writing now.

Page 24-25: The new (and less detailed) score report is depicted.

General Skill-Building Tips

Page 33: The previous edition says “do not panic.”  The new book says “do not become overwhelmed.”  I LOLed.

Test Delivery

Page 36 (important): Page 7 says that the reading section has 3-4 passages, with 10 questions per passage.  Page 36 says that the reading section has 27-40 questions.  Those descriptions do not match. However, this reflects my earlier comments on this blog about how sometimes there are just nine questions in a reading passage.  This happens when the “table” question is worth 3 points.  Indeed, this is the case in several of the practice reading sets later in the book!

Well, there is another new TOEFL book available this week.  On Monday, Kaplan’s 4 Practice Tests for the TOEFL (2nd Edition).  While it is true that I obsessively review all of the new TOEFL books, I don’t think I’ll buy this one.  The first edition of the book was horrid, as was the last few editions of Kaplan’s flagship “TOEFL Prep Plus.”  Those two books were, by far, the worst recent TOEFL books.  It also bothers me that access to the online content required to use the book expires after one year, which makes the book useless.

I might review it if I can find a library copy, but if anyone here reads it and wants to share their comments I will pass them along.

Meanwhile, I am still waiting for my copies of the new Official Guide and Official Tests books.  When they arrive I will update the big list of books.  Detailed reviews of each will be provided as soon as possible, of course.